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Comment Sought on House & Road Sign Ordinance in Morgan County

BERKELEY SPRINGS, WV - At their Jan. 22 and Feb. 5 meetings, the Morgan County Commission discussed the need for adequate road signage of hundreds of county roads. They are seeking public comment about a law that would require uniform signs and posting of house numbers. A March 5 public hearing was held but with little turnout due to the winter storm Thor. The courthouse closed shortly after the time set for the hearing. A second hearing is scheduled April 16 at 10 a.m. at the commission room of the county courthouse.

Commissioner Bob Ford reported in January that Morgan has approximately 900 roads not adequately marked with signs. Morgan is the only county that did not complete sign identification by 2009 when the Statewide Addressing and Mapping Board (WVSAMB) disbanded after about eight years on a project to help counties mark all roads.  There had been grant funding for purchasing signs or sign-making equipment. The board disseminated in 2009 and divided the remaining money equally among the 55 counties. The only funding available now is 911 monies.

The problem came to Ford’s attention when a Jan. 7 emergency call received by 911 dispatchers involved a mobile home that was not adequately marked.  The proper address was on file, and the caller did confirm it. But state police had trouble finding the home on a dark, stormy night. It turned out, subdivision roads weren’t clearly marked, and the mobile home was marked with a lot number rather than house number or name.

Commissioners decided to complete the project no matter how long it takes because of the need of proper signage for emergency services personnel.  Ford sought quotes on signs, sign poles, and sign-making equipment.  He reported his findings to date to commissioners Brad Close and Joel Tuttle on Feb. 5. 

Hardy County officials offered to make signs for Morgan County on their own equipment for a very reasonable rate.  Ford said if 900 signs are needed, the price tag might be around $16,200 for the signs, about $18 each.  He talked with someone at the West Virginia Department of Corrections on the most reasonable costs for sign posts. He was told they could get the posts, brackets and fittings for about $24,279.00.  And, he checked on a post hole driver and power source from various vendors.  He said the power source for the post hole driver could be used in future for other uses such as powering a jackhammer. One quote from Grainger was for $11,100.  Another was $6,745.00.

On March 11, he said it will cost about $70,000.  Hardy County will provide the signs at nominal cost. Hardware and equipment will come from West Virginia Correctional Industries.  It all depends on how many residents have marked their own roads and if they comply with WV Code requirements. It will take time, perhaps up to one year to complete the project.  Utility authorities will have to be contacted on every sign placement to check for underground utility lines. Corrections department officials would oversee community service workers on placing the signs. 

They drafted a new ordinance with rules and regulations about marking private streets, mobile homes, single family homes, etc. Under a new ordinance, the commission would appoint a Mapping and Addressing Coordinator who would sort out road names and direct placements of signs to create a database of road names.

The owner of any house, building, or structure built in the county after the addressing took effect would have to get an official 911 address from the mapping coordinator and then post the assigned address on the house or building within 30 days. There are requirements about the size of house numbers and posting of a sign, and how address numbers should be a contrasting color against a reflective background for visibility. County subdivision rules currently require roads, streets and lanes in a subdivision be identified with posted signs.
A couple residents were opposed to the ordinance when speaking to commissioners March 5.  They wanted their private road to remain private. Some were confused about requirements of the size of house numbers to be required to be posted by homeowners. However, volunteer fire company personnel, EMS, and postal officials were for a more uniform road and home sign labeling process.

Ford said he can understand the right to privacy.  “One homeowner felt he shouldn’t pay for a sign on the house or house numbers just because it’s required. He thought the government should furnish it if it’s a mandate. I can understand that. But West Virginia Code states it’s up to the homeowner.  Some counties are doing it at county expense, but we cannot.”
Ford said if existing house numbers are clearly visible from the right of way, there’s no problem. “We won’t have someone tracking down people.  But if EMS or the fire department is dispatched and can’t find the house, they will make a report. The mapping coordinator will notify the homeowner or send a letter they have 30 days to adequately mark the house.”
He said the whole intent is for emergency personnel to be able to find someone in need.

The proposed ordinance is posted at http://www.morgancountywv.gov for review; or, a copy can be obtained at the Morgan County Courthouse in Berkeley Springs.  Anyone who cannot attend the public hearing can send comments to the Morgan County Commission at 77 Fairfax Street, Berkeley Springs, WV 25411.